Unified Teams Wrap Up Season at Jamboree

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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DALTON, Mass. – More high schools than ever are choosing to include.
But there always is room to include a few more.
The Unified Basketball teams from Frontier, Mount Greylock, Pittsfield and Wahconah got together Tuesday for a season-ending jamboree.
It was the last of 15 such jamborees around Massachusetts over the last couple of weeks.
That is the highest number of post-season events the state has held because this fall marked the highest number of teams – 124 – participating in Unified Sports, a Special Olympics program that allows student-athletes of different intellectual disabilities to train together and compete for their schools.
“Even in 2017, there were 26 schools participating and now, we have a complement of 124 schools across Massachusetts from way down in Monomoy and the Vineyard to out here in the Berkshires and all points in between,” Special Olympics Massachusetts’ Kathy Lutz said. “There’s been tremendous growth for Unified Basketball and Unified Sports as a whole.
“The idea is to have Unified programming in all schools. We’re still in the growth mindset, and we’re really excited to implement our mission across schools in Massachusetts.”
Special Olympics Massachusetts partners with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association to provide athletic opportunities for all students. On Tuesday, Lutz was joined by MIAA official Peter Smith.
Tuesday’s jamboree, the first of its kind in the county, featured two shortened games for each team in two sessions. Wahconah played both of its county rivals. Pittsfield and Mount Greylock each faced off against Frontier for a game.
As always, the focus was on friendly competition, with athletes and their “buddies” encouraging players from both teams to attempt and make shots and fans for all four teams providing moral support.
Everyone in the gym, from the players to the coaches to the volunteer officials to the spectators, lived the Special Olympics creed, read at the outset of Tuesday’s games by Wahconah student Sam Iovieno: “"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Lutz said that Special Olympics Massachusetts continues to actively support schools with an interest in joining the program, either in the fall for basketball, in the spring for track and field, or both.
“We invite the principal, the athletic director and the special ed director to get together with some of the administrators to really understand what the Unified Champion Schools program is,” Lutz said. “That does include Unified Sports and inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement. There are other pillars to the overall program.
“We offer the structure and the framework, and then the schools take it on. But with interscholastic sports, we do provide the game structure, season structure and support that way. We support coaches and implement the post-season and help put on events like this.”
It’s not a hard sell to the schools.
“Special Olympics represents the best of what high school sports should be about,” Wahconah Athletic Director Jared Shannon told the crowd. “This is the best part of my job.”
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